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Lake Oswego City Council will have to set priorities for city

As a number of expensive projects advance locally, a clear financial picture for Lake Oswego residents still lies somewhere ahead.

While engineering work and other studies aim to pin down clear costs on improvements, Lake Oswego's incoming city council is due to weigh projects ranging from a new community center to sewer pipeline. Council members will begin to fine-tune civic priorities in a series of workshops in January.

As those officials head into talks about city goals - scheduled for Jan. 5 and 6 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the West End Building (Safeco) - estimates from a July workshop still represent the closest picture they have to gauge Lake Oswego's pending financial obligations.

City employees caution the figures aren't very accurate. Contributed by a handful of departments prior to the council's mid-year goal session in 2006, the numbers are considered rough estimates developed to help the group chart its course.

'We just thought we should show it to council and say these are some of the big things you've got going on right now so just be aware,' said Jane Heisler, assistant to the city manager for Lake Oswego.

The estimates do indicate, however, the range of potential costs to be weighed by Lake Oswego's next group of leaders. They also point to potential funding sources for those proposed projects.

Heisler said that while city officials typically juggle multiple projects at one time, this current list includes some of the largest items every planned in Lake Oswego.

'The city council, including the three new members, have a lot coming to them in the near future so they'll have a lot of different decisions to make about the scope of these projects and the timing of these projects,' she said.

Large projects, costs and funding

On the table are a series of expensive improvements ranging from infrastructure repairs to a new community center. Their combined costs were projected in July to range from $171 to $186.9 million.

Proposed projects include the community center and sewer improvements, a streetcar link to Portland, investment in Foothills redevelopment, improvements related to the Lake Grove Village Center plan, improvements to Boones Ferry Road, a new fire station in the Stafford area, seismic upgrades to city hall and a new maintenance facility.

Some are priority projects, others are proposed amenities and several hinge on public processes not yet completed. Needed upgrades in the city's water utility weren't factored into July's discussion and aren't included in estimates but will be needed in the next three years.

Of the proposed projects, the largest items are the community center, streetcar and needed upgrades to the sewer system, currently estimated to cost $65 million.

The sewer upgrades have already been planned for and will be financed through bonds sold against utility fees for sewers. New estimates on the cost of that project are due out Tuesday.

For now, city officials have planned to raise the sewer fees charged to water bills over the next five years to cover costs. Right now sewer fees are about $47 every two months on an average water bill of $119. In five years they will be approximately $75 of a $150 bill.

Revenue bonds do not require a vote of the public because they don't raise taxes. Three local projects could raise taxes and would require a vote if they did. So far, the community center and streetcar are two of these.

A community center is projected to cost between $50 and $60 million to build, including the cost of land purchased earlier this year for $20 million. City officials have planned to fund construction through general obligation bonds, which would increase property taxes and therefore a vote, likely to come before voters in November 2008.

Funds for community center development could also come from the sale of a portion of the Kruse Way property bought for the project and from general tax revenues.

Seismic upgrades to city hall may also require a vote. Those upgrades are estimated to cost between $4 and $10 million and could also draw funding from a variety of other sources.

A proposed streetcar extension may also appear before voters. The extension is estimated to cost up to $270 million. If chosen as a priority in public meetings next spring, much of its funding would likely come from federal transportation dollars.

The remainder would fall partly to Lake Oswego and up to $4.5 million in general obligation bonds was considered in July. The city's general fund may also contribute funds to that project. Other options include an urban renewal district and tax increment financing. Both have been considered as tools for three additional projects.

LIDS, TIF and targeted zones

Local improvement districts - or districts that levy fixed fees against surrounding properties - have been considered as a possible funding source for redevelopment in Foothills (estimated $12.2 million), improvements in Lake Grove (estimated $10.4 million) and on Boones Ferry Road (estimated $14 million). Affected property owners would be asked to vote on them.

If approved, the districts would charge fees to landowners along the projects areas and would seek repayment in either a one-time fee or through scheduled payments over time.

Tax increment financing has also been considered in each of those cases. TIF programs, also called urban renewal districts, would ease the burden for landowners in new project areas by committing future tax revenues in the districts to fund its projects without charging additional fees. If the tool were favored, future tax receipts from the districts would not be available for other city business via its general fund.

According to July's estimates, projects in Lake Grove and in Foothills could also draw from a combination of public and private partnerships, grants, utility fees, general tax revenue and monies paid by developers on new construction.

Smaller projects such as a new fire station and maintenance facility could also use those means, excepting utility fees. Each of those is estimated at $3 million.

Timing and priorities

City leaders caution July's numbers are preliminary only. They are subject to change as extended study and continued engineering efforts refine costs and public opinion.

'Some are going to rise to the surface as being more important than others,' said Heisler.

Those approved may not call for funding for years. But in 2007, public process, at least, will conclude on these projects.

The Lake Grove Village Center plan will come to the city council sometime in February for a decision. An action plan on sewer repairs is set to take hold in March. Contractors for the city are currently refining needs for building upgrades. The Community Center Steering Committee will refine its plan in early summer. Public process is also expected to decide the fate of a proposed streetcar link in the spring. And the city council is expected to refine its vision for Foothills at its January session.

Richard Seals, finance director for the city, said visioning must take place before serious financial work is done.

'Visioning usually starts a process and financing catches on fairly early, especially with those (projects) that are fairly certain,' said Seals.

These numbers, he said, 'are soft in the sense that if the city leaders don't go through that process, nothing would ever get built but it doesn't mean they're going to build everything either.'

Heisler said key decisions on city financing would likely take place in the next year.

The city's document "Prospective Projects and Potential Funding Sources" can be found here here.